OPEN HOUSE: Meet Bo Boatner, Thomas Street Elementary’s physical education teacher

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Bo Boatner, known by students as Coach Bo, is the physical education teacher for children in kindergarten through second grade at Thomas Street Elementary School in Tupelo.

After being laid off from his job as a drafter, he began substitute teaching for the New Albany School District in 2004. It kicked off a now 18-year career in education.

By the end of 2005, Boatner was an assistant teacher and worked in that role for three years. When his school said they needed an assistant teacher certified in physical education, he got certified.

That’s how he landed on teaching physical education.

The Tupelo Public School District gave him his first job as a full-time teacher. He started out at Lawndale Elementary School and now teaches at Thomas Street.

Despite having several family members in the profession, including his mother, Boatner vowed he would never be a teacher.

He didn’t begin teaching until he was 32, and it’s a difficult and scary feeling now knowing what you want to do with your life, Boatner said.

“I feel like God basically dropped my profession out of the sky and hit me in the head,” Boatner said. “Because I was just absolutely not looking for what I do. I always said I wouldn’t be a teacher, and even when I was desperately trying to think of what I could get certified in, I didn’t think about PE until somebody asked me to do it. And then it just all clicked. It just fell in my lap.”

Boatner said he hopes no one will give up on finding what they want to do, no matter their age.

Q&A

What was your favorite subject growing up?

“I’d say probably science, particularly in high school. I had a really good science teacher. Myrtle High School had one science teacher. He was brilliant. It was just about everything around you, the world and how things work. I’ve always been interested in how things work.”

Did you have any favorite teachers? What made them special?

“I had a lot of great teachers, but there were some that I remember more from. I don’t know if I’d call them favorite, but a couple that I probably think back to most often would be that science teacher, Davie Kennedy. And when I was getting my drafting degree, Ray Gaillard from Ripley taught construction classes. He had a lot of real world experience. He talked about his subject, but it would kind of filter into politics, life and philosophy.”

Tell me about your philosophy as a teacher. How do you approach the job each day?

“The most important thing kids can learn in school is how to respect and relate to people. Not just in their personal lives or professional lives, in everything they do. It applies to the most important things in their lives. I think P.E. is the perfect place to teach that. It’s actually one of our standards. I also want kids to be interested. Being interested in learning is more important than information. You can get information from the internet, but it’s the interest that makes you look for it.”

What’s one thing you wish your students knew about you?

“I want them to know that I care about people in general. I have a respect for people I don’t know, and I have a love of people that I do know. I want them to know that I care about them, and that’s why, sometimes, I’m tough on them. Kids won’t get that unless you have some kind of relationship with them. They’re never going to accept that your discipline is for their own good if they never feel any love from you.”

What’s your favorite part of the job?

“Being around young kids. You know, my stepson was 10 when I got married, and that’s the only child I have. So I never had any kids of my own the age I teach. They’re generally good people. Some of them may grow up to be bad, but kids that age are basically all good. I can’t say that about grownups. Kids at this age, they basically all respect adults. Some of them lose that later, but kids the age I teach, they basically all respect adults. That makes my job easy.”

Do you have a classroom motto?

“I have three rules, and I tell them at the beginning of the year. They’re rules that are really everywhere. Be respectful, be productive and be safe. Every single rule I can think of has to do with at least one of those, and all of them are there to take care of people and make their lives better.”

What are you looking forward to this school year?

“I always go into every year thinking about some ways that I can do things a little better than I did the year before. I love being home and those last few days, it’s kind of melancholy, and I’m thinking about all of the stuff I meant to get done this summer that I didn’t get done. But once I get to school, it makes me feel better when I see the kids. I get excited about my little experiments, ideas of things I’m going to try to see if this works better. When I start the year, what gets me over being homesick is seeing the kids and thinking, ‘I’ve got some ideas to make things better. I’m looking forward to see if they work.’ There’s lots of experimenting. I don’t think you ever stop trying to do things a little differently.”